Saturday, December 26, 2015

Heads - A Short Story by Ben Blanchette

     Close your eyes, Elise. Take a deep breath and practice your yoga breathing. That's good, Elise. Breathe in four beats, hold it, now out. Now imagine you're back at the office. It's a slow day, annual reports have come in and everything looks fine. Your stock is stable so there's nothing to worry about. Good. Now, search deep inside your mind. Find the implant.
     "Hey, Russian guy. What's the girl doing?"
     Ignore the boy, Elise. Focus on the implant.
     "I think she is trying to deactivate the implant. I once saw a guy who did this. He tried so hard his head exploded. There was brain matter in the pancakes.”
     "What did the aliens do?”
     "They did nothing. No one complained about the brain matter in the food."
     Elise pursed her lips as reflux flowed up her esophagus. It retreated, leaving a lingering vile taste.
     “Hey Russian guy, did you see that? She almost puked."
     “Please, girl, do not vomit in the pancakes."
     Elise opened her eyes. She stood at a short metallic table, dressed in a tight gray jumpsuit which clung to her body like spandex. A single light flickered overhead, filling the room in a dim, epileptic gloom.
     The teenage boy and the Russian stood at opposite ends of the table with Elise between them. Small metal bowls covered the table. They glowed with various shades of diluted neon colors. Both males wore the same skin-tight jumpsuits, accentuating the bones protruding from their skeletal frames. Short stubbly hair covered their once clean shaven heads. A twig sized antenna extended out of their foreheads, encircled by a crude oval of pale stitches contrasted against bruised skin.
     “What is wrong with you two?" Elise said. “If you could just shut up for a few minutes, I can figure this out. Resolving problems is what I do. It's my job. And I'm getting out of here.”     The loose skin on the boy’s face crumpled into a twisted mess and he began to sob, accompanied by sorrowful wails. The wrinkled creases created an illusion, aging the boy from fifteen to seventy in an instant.
     Elise cringed.
     “I do not get it,” the Russian said, shouting over the echo of the boy's weeping. "You have been here a few days, maybe, I do not know, so why do you bully him? The guy before you did not speak English and he did not mind us talking."
     The Russian’s lanky, ossified fingers stretched forward and reached into a bowl. It retrieved a cucumber-like object with splotches of blackened warts. It glowed yellow. With robotic precision, his hands sliced the object into minuscule pieces, then scraped it into a bowl with the large knife and passed it to Elise. Her own hand, now pale and thin, accepted the bowl and added the contents to a thick creamy mixture.
     “And what happened to him?” Elise said.
     “I told you already. His head exploded. It was very gross.”
     The boy wailed louder.
     “Look, kid, I’m sorry,” Elise said, turning to him, her hands stirring at a rapid pace.
     "You are sorry?" the Russian said. "The boy stands here and makes breakfast for aliens just like you. Why do you make him cry?"
     "Look," Elise said, the boy continued his lament. "We seem to be having personnel conflicts in the workplace. That's understandable, considering the conditions. But, if I can have a few moments of peace, I promise I'll stop making the kid cry. I just need more time to evaluate the situation and determine the best way to... "
     “It cannot be done,” the Russian said. “I saw the head explode.”
     “I don’t believe you," Elise said. "Why would aliens go through all of the trouble to abduct and enslave us just to blow our heads off? It’s bad business.”
     “Maybe they are stupid aliens.”
     Elise passed the bowl to the boy without making eye contact. He was calmer now, his cries deteriorating into slow, gagging coughs. Tears dripped into the mixture. The boy slopped globs onto a sizzling black stove top and the mixture flattened out into a lumpy mess that quickly hardened into a pancake. The boy flipped each one after exactly thirty seconds. Elise had counted.
     “If they can hack into our brains,” Elise said, “then they're certainly not stupid. But we can each use our brain to fight back. I figure it's like learning to move a muscle for the first time, like wiggling your ears. Have you ever tried to wiggle your ears?"
     The crying ceased. Surprised, Elise turned to the boy.
     “I can wiggle my ears,” the boy said, sniffling. "See?"
     The boy contorted his face, stretching and wrinkling the skin on his brow, bouncing his eyebrows. His ears didn’t move.
     "That's nice," Elise said. "Keep it up. Only ten thousand more hours of practice to master it."
     "I think you are foolish," the Russian said. "I saw guy's head explode and he was doing the same thing as you - thinking very hard and saying, ‘I can do this! I can do this!’"
     Elise glared.
     "Do you enjoy this place?" she snapped at him. "Do you enjoy sleeping on your feet, or eating these foul, glowing pancakes when they’re shoved into your mouth? Based on your heroine chic appearance, I will assume you don’t. Likewise, do you know what happens when you urinate in your jumpsuit? I don’t know if the odor engulfing this room is the food or our own feces. Maybe I’m crazy but I want to feel below my neck again. I want to shower. I want my life back. Don’t you want to go back to Russia and go back to...whatever you did?”
     “How do you know I’m from Russia?”
     “Because you sound Russian,” Elise said. “And why can’t you or the boy remember anything; your names, where you are from, or even how long you’ve been here. Doesn’t that bother you?” 
     The Russian shook his head. “Not really,” he said.
     “Well I’m haven’t forgotten who I am! I used to be the VP of corporate finance for a multi-million dollar company. I was the youngest and most promising VP the company had ever seen. I have something to live for. I have something to fight for. Now give me some quiet to think.”
     "Please don't do it" the boy petitioned. Elise turned back to him. His face was quivering, like a volcano of sobs were on the verge of erupting. "I don't want to see your head explode."
     “Don't worry, kid,” Elise said, "the strange Russian man has been here too long. He doesn't know what he's talking about."
     The Russian’s eyes dropped to his hands. They were chopping a blue-glowing ball that resembled a frozen tomato. He didn’t look at Elise.
     “I had a family...I think,” the Russian whispered.
     Elise ignored him and closed her eyes.
     Calm down and think of something happy. Think of...think of James. Remember the trip to Bermuda you took with him. There were palm trees, sand and salty air blowing in, off the water. James was strutting in his speedo and you’re laughing because his farmer’s tan looked ridiculous. He's out there somewhere thinking about you right now. He misses you. You haven't actually talked to him much in the last two months, but I'm sure he misses you. Now focus, look deep inside your mind. Look deep...
     STOP.
     The word floated in the darkness behind Elise’s eyelids in bold white text. Elise opened her eyes and the text remained, though barely visible. She blinked rapidly and with the last shudder of her eyelids, the word vanished. 
     Elise found herself staring at the boy. His eyes were closed, head slumped over to the side. His hands continued flipping the glowing pancakes. She turned to the Russian who also had his head to the side, though he seemed to be scratching his ear on his shoulder. The boy began to snore.
     Elise closed her eyes. New words immediately appeared. She read them slowly, then reread them, trying to grasp their meaning.
     WE DO NOT LIKE BRAINS IN OUR FOOD.
     Elise peered around the room searching for cameras or two way mirrors, but saw little more than darkness surrounding the table.
     They’re watching us. Was that a warning? Do they know I’m close to figuring it out. Yes, they’re trying to stop me. What else can this mean?
     New words appeared.
     I WILL SHUT YOU DOWN.
     Elise smiled. She was right. It was a threat. 
     Then go ahead and shut me down. I could use a good nap.
     NOT NAP. DEAD.
     Elise’s throat tightened. She hadn’t expected a response. 
     The Russian began to hum while the boy snored. Half distracted, Elise took her time responding, trying to strategize her response. She wasn’t used to negotiating when she didn’t have the upper hand.
     You wouldn’t kill me.
     The text hovered for a long moment then vanished.
     WHY WOULD I NOT?
     I am a valuable asset. You’ve invested a lot in me. 
     The text remained so Elise continued.
     Seriously, think of all the resources you've sunk into this operation. The implant in my forehead must cost a fortune to develop. Then factor in the cost of the medical training for your surgical staff...and what about the fuel and labor to run your spaceship? That can’t be cheap. Killing me now would be junking a capital expense before it’s had a chance to fully depreciate. I’m a long-term asset.
     I DO NOT CARE.
     Then you need to reassess your business model because you can’t just throw away money like that. 
     Elise stopped and realized something.
     You’re with the government aren’t you? 
     I WILL DO IT.
     No you won't. You're only afraid I’ve figured out how to escape. So maybe we can make a deal. My escape is inevitable so why not let me go and I won’t tell anyone?
     I CANNOT DO THAT.
     Why not?
     I WILL LOSE MY JOB.
     So what? You’re likely an expendable employee with  a job that is dismal at best. 
     YES. IT IS.
     Then why do it? Why not aspire higher?
     I HAVE OFFSPRING.
     Don’t you’re offspring deserve more?
     No response followed. The Russian was singing now in a language that Elise identified as Russian.
     Well, mysterious alien friend, let me tell you something. I don’t have offspring, but I had a great job. a nice condo, and I had James, kind of. I did important things. How can you not feel guilty about what you've done to us? 
     I AM DOING MY JOB.
     Fine. I can see I’m not getting through to you. Let me speak to your supervisor.
     The last line of text vanished. Elise waited, letting the silence stretch out as long as it needed. She didn’t think such a tactic would work, but she had to try.
     "Girl, please stop," the Russian said.
     Elise opened her eyes, a beaming smile stretched across her face. The muscles used for the expression ached from disuse.
     "I'm on to something,” Elise exhaled in a hoarse whisper. “They're talking to me in my head. They’re trying to scare me. I think they're afraid I'll figure it out!"
     The Russian studied her cautiously while he passed her another bowl.
     "You are talking to voices in your head?" he said.
     "Not voices," Elise said. "Text appears on my eyeballs and I can read it like on a computer screen. And I can respond through my thoughts. They’re spying on us too. I’m not sure how but if they can hack into our brains then it makes sense for them to monitor us through our senses like vision and hearing. It’s the most efficient way.”
     The Russian processed this for a long moment. The light flicked overhead.
     “I think you are crazy,” he declared.
     At the opposite end of the table the boy grunted, and they both turned to him. His head rolled, chin resting on his chest. His hands collected the remaining pancakes and placed them on a surface beside him next to five similar plates. A conveyor belt came to life with a jolt and it carried away the pancakes into the darkness.
     “I’m not crazy. I’m on to something.”
     "What would you do if you escaped?" the Russian asked. “We could be on a spaceship or a far away planet. You are more likely to be sucked out an airlock or eaten by a big scary alien. You would not escape.”
     Elise’s throat tightened again.  The bowls, table, utensils; everything but the strange glowing food was familiar enough to be human. She had assumed they were still somewhere on Earth. The Russian had a point. They could be anywhere in the universe.
     "I don't care," Elise said.
     Text appeared, causing Elise to flinch.
     THERE IS NOTHING LEFT OF YOUR RACE.
     "You're lying," Elise said after reading the message.
     “I am not lying,” the Russian said. “We could be on Pluto.”
     WE INVADED YOUR PLANET. 
     THEY ARE ALL DEAD.
     "Why do this to me if you were just going to wipe us out?” she said. "Your whole operation is poorly managed and highly inefficient. Is this the supervisor?"
     DO NOT BE MAD AT ME. I AM DOING MY JOB.
     "I don't care about your job. You can't do this to me. I’m a human being and humans are strong and powerful. And when I get out of here I'm going to make sure you're more than fired. We’re going to blow you out of the sky."
     Elise stopped there, feeling her chest expand as she heaved in a series of deep breaths.
     "That’s it. You are crazy," the Russian said.
     Elise dropped her spoon.
     “I’m not crazy,” she gasped. “I think I've...”
     Elise's body fell limp. A hand caught the rim of the bowl as she toppled over, splattering the glowing contents across the table. A glob of mixture struck the sleeping boy's face as Elise hit the floor. 
     The boy's head popped up in surprise, jerking from side to side as he surveyed the room. Something cool, wet, and lumpy was running down his cheek. And the girl was missing.
     The boy released a deafening shriek.
     "Please calm down," the Russian said. “It is okay.”
     The boy stopped screaming. “What...happened?” he said, panting.
     "The girl passed out,” the Russian answered. “She will wake up and forget where she is. I have seen this happen before.”
     “So...her head didn’t explode?"
     “No.”
     The boy looked across the table at the man, eyes squinting in the darkness.
     “How long do you think it will it take? I’m almost done with this batch.”

Utah Valley University's Fall 2015 Edition of Warp and Weave.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

NaNoWriMo Day 14 - How Losing is Done.

The month is almost halfway over and I'm 3,973 words behind. Yesterday I did a whopping 263 words, which is my lowest daily word count yet. I bet this blog post is longer than that.

In my previous post I mentioned how I write in three blocks throughout the day. An hour in the morning while lying in bed (like right now), 30-60 minutes on my lunch break, and 1-2 hours before I doze off to happy land. But yesterday I slept in, and because I slept in I forgot my lunch at home so I left the office for lunch, and then I passed out from mental exhaustion around 10:30. I was asleep before my wife came to bed.

And that's how you get 4,000 words behind, my friends. That's how losing is done!

It also doesn't help that I've been distracted this week and writing my story has felt like I'm back in college doing research papers. And when I do sit down to write I find myself more interested in writing these blog posts than my story. Yes, right now I'd rather write about my writing than actually writing.

Wait...I've had an epiphany. Yes, why didn't I see it before? The tension is gone in my story! This blog post is filled with tension, but the story has become dull and flat. Remember what you wrote in the first blog post, Ben? Excitement, tension, drama! It's gone! You lost it! But where did it go? And how can you bring it back?

That's it, screw the outline. I'm going rogue. It's time to throw Gabby in the water.

Cue "Eye of the Tiger."

Bum....bum, bum, bum...bum, bum, bum...bum, bum, buuuuuuummmmmmm.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

I LIE AWAKE

I LIE AWAKE

My eyes are closed and head is down
The mind's a race, hear every sound
And though I do not look around
My feet feel like they're on the ground

I have a dream about my friends
Who all forsake me in the end
And every single word I send
Gets broken up and left to mend

I suppose this means that I'm asleep
Though I still dream I'm on my feet
And every thought I think is deep
And what I think is on repeat

I know this thing inside my head
That keeps me here, the waking dead
Means every single night I dread
This struggle fought inside my bed

I think of all the years gone by
And all the moments when I cried
To wonder when or if I'd die
Such mem'ries now a lullaby

I think of God and if He is
A magic force that can forgive
A yearning soul, alone I live
Amazing grace, my soul I give

I think of all the thing that changed
The progress made, the times forgave
To think that now I’m not a slave
I've conquered much inside this cave

By morning's dawn, I'm not as bad
As all the sadder days I've had
So one may say that I am glad
To lie awake

Saturday, November 7, 2015

NaNoWriMo Day 7 - Hitting the Wall

In order to write 1667 words a day for 30 days, I've had to spread out my writing time into three sessions per day. I find myself waking up at 5:30 AM lately. Not on purpose, but rarely have I ever have the luxury of being woken up by the alarm. So I pick up my tablet and use this time to write. It's nice because the kids aren't awake, I'm in my nice warm bed, and the only distractions are my gargling stomach and my fantasy basketball scores. I can pump out 500-800 words before I start my day.

The second writing session is during my lunch break. The third is at bed time. Lunch is always the most difficult time to write because I'm in work mode. There are also more distractions like customer calling in, fantasy basketball scores, or a Tupperware full of leftovers.

Before I go to bed can also be difficult. Distractions include children, fantasy basketball scores, and sleep.

Except for the nighttime session (sometimes) I get no more than an hour each time. I have to write fast and I cannot be concerned with the quality of my writing.

"What's that?" you say, "Isn't the quality of your writing important?"

Well...no...it's not. Not on a first draft at least.

What non-writers don't understand (and what I didn't understand for a long time) is that the first draft never looks good. In fact, your final draft may have little resemblance to the thing that gave birth to it. Of the two short stories I've now published, neither of them resemble much of the first draft. Over the course of three years (each) I tweaked them, rewrote them, gave up on them, resurrected them, rewrote them again, tweaked some more, and then finally showed them to someone. For a beginning writer, the first draft is almost always trashed and no sentence remains the same. But the more experienced you become, the better your first drafts become and the writing process becomes shorter.

So, on day 7 of NaNoWriMo I find myself facing a wall of frustration.
I now have written about 10,000 words of my novel and most of it will be tossed. By the time I complete the final draft I will likely have written 200,000+ words to get what I hope will be a 75,000 word novel. It's frustrating to know I'll be throwing out almost everything I write and the little burst of creativity I felt at the beginning is gone. What keeps me going is a desire to see the final product, even though I know it could be years away.

Monday, November 2, 2015

NaNoWriMo - Day 2 - Learning to love transitions.

I've discovered a new joy in writing.

Creating transitional scenes has always been difficult. These are scenes where the characters are walking, driving, standing around, or just thinking. I get bored with them.

I try to outline my stories chapter by chapter before I write. It helps to organize my thoughts and ideas. But I never outline transitional scenes because I never thought they were important to the plot.

"If you hate them, why write them?" you ask. Well...have you ever sat through an action movie that jumps from one action scene to the next? Something by Michael Bay perhaps? After about an hour it feels like you're the one getting pummeled by giant robots. Transitional scenes help slow down the pace of the story, and if properly balanced it can be a powerful tool in helping to build tension and setting for the next the scene. I'm finally beginning to understand this. And it's a blast to write.

For example, the story I'm writing for NaNoWriMo is about a 16 year old girl who moves to Maine to live with her estranged mother for the summer. When I created the opening scene the story  jumped right to the girl sitting on an airplane and she's reluctantly talking with the dirty old man beside her. This is important to the story, though the reader does not realize it at this point. I created it to be the introduction to the girl, the old man, and to the girl's mother. It's a funny scene and I'm happy to finally have written it.

But when I began writing yesterday I decided that it might be more interesting to include details about the girl's journey. Suddenly, all the terrible experiences I've had in airplanes and airports over the last decade and a half came flooding back to me. I'm not just talking about the long lines going through security. That's all people focus on when they share traveling experiences, but it's really not that bad. I'm talking about waking up early, finding parking and shuttles, long layovers, sitting alone in an empty terminal in the middle of the night, shrink-wrapped day old sandwhiches, trying to find an empty stall in the bathroom, trying to find your gate as people scramble past you in the hallways like it's Walmart on Black Friday. And don't get me started about flying with kids. That's a whole other monster.

In addition to these inconveniences, your first time flying can be frightening. And it would be a far more horrific experience if you did it alone. Adding some of these details helped make the scene on the plane much more powerful.

Even after the girl lands in Maine, I included a transition scene between the airport and when she meets her mother again. Originally, I had her getting off the airplane and going directly outside where her mother is waiting with the car running. But this is not interesting and the tension is flat. Yes, by this point the reader understands what a terrible person the mother is. It's discussed in the previous scene. But wait, do they? NO! They don't! I've told you about it, but I haven't shown it yet.

So...

Instead, I have the girl walking through the airport. She's exhausted, confused, and lonely. In a daze, she wanders outside only to realize that her mother is not there! She calls her mother to find out where she is and it turns out her mother forgot!

Drama! Tension! Excitment! Now the reader really hates that terrible old wench!

Finding herself stranded at the airport, the girl is on the verge of a meltdown. But someone unexpected is there to help her out. Who? Why, it's the creepy old man from the airplane, of course! He offers her a ride. Tired, angry, and desperate, she accepts. Now, when she finally meets her mother...

Drama! Tension! Excitement!

Used properly, these short, seemingly unnecessary scenes can be powerful for building up to the next plot point. As you can tell, I find myself enjoying them like never before.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

It's NaNo time!

It's 9:30 PM on Halloween night and I'm at Denny's. NaNoWriMo* begins at midnight and the regional NaNo group has gathered to socialize, play games, and then get down to business on their next epic masterpiece. I'll be gone before then, of course. There's church in the morning and my poor wife is at home sick from an illness I gave her. It can wait until a more reasonable hour.

The woman at my table is twice my age. She wears a leopard print shirt with a thickly knit scarf wrapped around her neck. Giant pumpkin shaped bells dangle from her ears. She says she's done this four times before and that she writes "historical fantasy." When asked to share an interesting fact about her, she tells us her house is haunted. And when it comes out that I'm a Mormon she promises not to make any Mormon jokes. I like her.

The head of the NaNoWriMo group is dressed in Hogwarts Robes and her curly hair is tinted purple where it falls on her shoulders. She's pacing between the tables and booths, chatting to the dozen or so NaNos like she's an extrovert. I find myself admiring her enthusiasm and positive attitude, and each time she offers me a chocolate from the giant candy dish, I feel I have no choice but to comply.

Some of these people are dressed in Halloween costumes, though I can't be certain it's not their everyday atire. It's an interesting group and as strange as I feel admitting I'm here among these huge nerds, I think it's about time I grow up and embrase the crowd. As I peer around the room I feel the need to stand up and apologize for my insulting and condencending perception of them. Instead, I'll keep my mouth shut and focus on the things we have in common. For one, we're all at Denny's on Halloween night, super stoked to get started on a story we'll likely never publish. Maybe they're writing super nerdy stuff about dragons and magic but I'm the big tool writing about mermaids. Who's the loser now, Ben? Who's the loser NOW?

I am a writer. These people are writers. All of us dream of emulating our heros and someday becoming real** writers. I am no different than them.
It's now 11:30 pm and I'm heading home. Everyone has their laptops out and are typing away at a writing prompt. When I tell them I'm leaving they pause everything to take a group photo. They want to make sure I'm included. I guess that makes me a part of the team now.



The majority of them will be there until 2 or 3 AM, surviving and persevering on cheap Denny's coffee and passion. One thing I honestly admire about them is that they all take this way more seriously than I do. And that's my problem. They're working hard at chasing their dream, but I can't help but feel like I'm still just dreaming.
It's time to get started.


*NaNoWriMo is a terribly unfortunate acronym for National Novel Writing Month. The idea is for aspiring to gain experience by committing to writing a 50,000 word novel in one month. For those who don't write full time, it's a huge committment.
**Paid

Monday, October 19, 2015

I am not a writing nerd...I am a PUBLISHED writing nerd.

This is the first revamp of the GOATS IN THE ATTIC blog since my declaration that "I am not a nerd!" back in May 2013. A lot has changed since then.

I live in New York now, I have a real career in sales, I'm a father of two amazing little girls, and I am still not a nerd. I'm being published again too! Awesome, right?

Rather than the GOATS IN THE ATTIC blog focusing on the mundane and superficial garbage of life, I'd like to start talking about my writing more. I've decided that in my pursuit of a writing career I've been doing it all wrong. Because of my "not a nerd" mentality, I've withdrawn a bit from the creative side of my psyche. I've refused to do certain things that are vital to my progression as a writer; like meeting with nerdy writing groups, reading nerdy stories, and actually writing the nerdy stuff I want to write. It turns out I really enjoy those things and if I want to be a writer I need to suck in my un-nerdy-like pride, accept that inner nerd, and start writing from the heart.

Finding time to write is the most difficult aspect of writing. When your family, job, and church responsibilities take up the majority of your time, it feels selfish to sneak away for a few hours a week and play with imaginary worlds and their silly imaginary characters. Sometimes it's difficult just finding the energy to write. Weeks can go by without writing more than a few paragraphs of revisions. And sometimes I'll hash out a few hundreds words on my lunch break only to forget about them and abandon the project. It's frustrating.

Her are a few excuses for why it's taken a decade to get this far.

I don't have time.
I'm tired.
I don't feel like writing sometimes.
I need to carve pumpkins with the kids.
I'm tired.
I'm in church and my wife is glaring at me because my writing notebook is open.
Now my daughter is trying to steal the pen from me.
I'm tired.
I SUCK.

These are common excuses for any artist, so don't feel bad for me.

Now I'm going to share a semi-random story because I don't know where to go with this blog post.

I "decided" to become a writer in 2005 while living on a friend's couch in Salt Lake City. I wouldn't write my first story, Happy's Nest, until 2007. For the next three years I wrote nothing but story lines for projects I'd never finish and revised Happy's Nest a dozen times. After chickening out at the deadline, twice, I finally submitted my story for publication in February of 2010 to Utah Valley University's sci-fi/fantasy journal, Warp and Weave. When I learned it had been accepted, I felt like a rock star who, after producing their first moderately successful hit, was truly destined for fame! Over the next few years I wrote a series of short stories that would all be rejected by Warp and Weave. In all seriousness, Warp and Weave is not a prestigious publication. No one outside of the English department at UVU and the families of the published writers will ever read it. If your prose is coherent and your story is remotely interesting, they'll probably accept you. That being said...my follow up work must have been atrocious. And I'm being harsh on W&W. I was accepted out of 200+ submissions so it's not like they're choosing the best 12 stories of 12 submisssions.

I've read and analysed Happy's Nest dozens of times in an attempt to uncover what it has that my other stories have lacked. The answer? Coherent prose, an accidentally structured and engaging narrative, and (most of all) spot-on humor.

Have you ever watched a sitcom tackle a dark story line like death, and still manage to make you laugh? Sometimes these jokes are the funniest because they're completely unexpected. Let me tell you why the humor in Happy's Nest worked. I'll explain by describing the crowd's reaction when I read the story at the release party.

Happy's Nest opens with a scene of chaos and riots. The world is about to end. It's interesting enough to get the attention of my audience, but light enough that they're not thrown off by what happens next - a joke. I get a chuckle from the audience. The story continues with more explaination about the character's situation and then there's a knock on his door. Who could it be? Someone to hurt him? Someone to rob him? The suspense builds as he opens the door. Oh, it's just the neighbor and BAM! another joke. The crowd laughs, this time with more than a chuckle. This scene carries on for a page or two and is littered with jokes, including the line, "What does Jesus have to do with dinosaurs?" The audience is roaring with laughter now and everything seems to be funny, even the bits that weren't intended to be. Then, in the next scene, my character moves back to the original setting and sees the horrifying aftermath of the riots. The character is startled by what he sees and the gravity of the situation sinks in. The audience is at the edge of their seats now, wondering what's going to happen next. I'm sure that some of them expected me to end it there, which I almost did. But what did I do instead? I toss in one last joke and the crowd goes nuts. I'll be honest, when I was writing it I didn't think it was that funny so their reaction threw me off. I follow the joke with a calm, retrospective moment and a embarrassingly cliched ending. Then the crowd applauds and I sit down. I don't win any awards but, man, I felt like a great writer.

The story is not as good as I make it sound. The prose is weak and cliched, and I felt embarrassed that it was included with work from more experienced writers. But the humor was perfect - a fluke maybe, but perfect. I had no idea what I was doing, but it was enough to add a publishing credit to my name and on my first attempt too.

My first truly completed piece since then is a short story titled HEADS, and it will be published in Warp and Weave's Fall 2015 edition. This story came from a dream I had about being abducted by aliens and having something implanted into my brain that took control of my body. Funny side note, when my alarm rang and I awoke from the dream, I was startled to find both of my arms asleep. It was terrifying and there's a moment in the story where I hope to convey that moment.

The story went through many drafts, some I liked more than my final draft. But I'm happy with what I created and I guess it was good enough to be published. I think the story is exactly what it needs to be for the intended publication and I can only hope it turns out as good as Happy's Nest.

I'm excited about it, though I wish I could be there to read it at the release party. I'm curious to see how the audience reacts to the "brain matter in the pancakes."